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Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Qatar Airways boss apologizes for remarks on women CEOs

Qatar Airways boss apologizes for remarks on women CEOs

Appointed chairman of the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) board of governors, Akbar Al Baker was asked at a news conference in Sydney on Tuesday about gender equality in the aviation industry and whether a woman could get to the top of an airline.

But his remarks sparked backlash on social media.

As a woman who has spent the last 16 years writing about, travelling around and interviewing people in the Middle East, I am particularly offended by Al Baker's comments, because his chauvinism (and, by extension, the implied chauvinism of the wider region) does not ring true with my experiences in this part of the world.

The gender row comes amid a deeper debate about whether airlines based on different national social models, recruitment policies and wage structures can compete on equal terms. Noting that the process is on track, he said the proposed carrier in India would be a full-service one and the investment would be done from the sovereign fund of Qatar's official investment arm.

In typical Al-Baker fashion, it was not instantly clear if his answer was serious or a badly-timed joke.

In 2017, he apologised after calling American flight attendants "grandmothers" during a trade row with United States airlines, prompting an airline union to accuse him of sexism and age discrimination. "I was not referring to the staff in general", he said.

He eventually went on to tell Bloomberg: "We actually encourage women".

At a dinner speech in Ireland past year, he said U.S. airlines were "crap" and their passengers were "always being served by grandmothers", while boasting that "the average age of my cabin crew is only 26".

The CEO of Qatar Airways, where women make up almost half the company's workforce, apologized for saying that a woman couldn't do his job because it was "very challenging".

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker reportedly made the comments after a reporter asked him about the lack of gender diversity in the Middle Eastern aviation sector, saying his position would be much too challenging for a woman.

The conference - often dominated by profit predictions and headwinds facing the sector - included a focus on gender diversity as only six of its 280-member airlines have female chief executives. "We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance", said Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of Miss America's board of trustees.

One was: "There aren't that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board - the issues covered are extremely complex".

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